December 18th, 2012
With Instagram under fire for changes to its TOS (Terms of Service), I thought it would be useful to review The 10 Laws of Social Networking Terms of Service:
- Your content is not yours. Social networks and media outlets own more of your content than they ever have before, and always have, but you just didn’t realize it.
- A TOS will, by design, compel users to surrender their rights. Users will nearly always be asked to give away some or all rights to their content. Most sites are free and a TOS is basically a trade for use of your name, info and meta data in exchange for use of the site.
- Most people do not read the TOS before agreeing to it. Only 1% of people read the TOS before signing up for a site. “I have read and agree to the Terms” is the biggest lie on the web. – Terms of Service; Didn’t Read.
- Only a small percentage of people who actually read a TOS understand it. Only 1% of the people who read a TOS, understand it. This small group then posts alerts on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, getting everyone else riled up.
- The origin of the TOS dictates its incomprehensibility. The reason the TOS sounds like a complicated legal contract is that it is one. The TOS is almost always drafted by lawyers, and attempts at writing “plain English” TOS’s are sometimes discouraged.
- The TOS will change faster than the rate at which people can comprehend and adapt to previous versions.(Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation is having trouble keeping up with changing TOS’s.)
- The TOS will upset end users. With every new or updated TOS, there is something in that will upset people once it’s brought to their attention.
- The TOS is a business enabler. Without certain rights, social networks can’t make use of your valuable data and therefore cannot make money on contextual advertising. Many would cease to exist.
- Every TOS will increase in complexity over time. The TOS is usually developed in response to both projected situations and new ones as they arise. In general, the TOS will, over time, take away user rights rather than granting new ones, and grow in length and complexity
- New terms in a TOS may create more problems than they solve. With the increasing sophistication and complexity of the social web and the emerging law in the space, many issues of copyright, privacy, etc. are unresolved from a legal standpoint, so even the most well-intentioned TOS might not properly address them. Pinterest discovered this when it updated its TOS and clouded the waters of copyright ownership.